Hardit Singh Malik was born in Rawalpindi in India on 23rd November 1894. He went to school in England and then studied at Balliol College, Oxford. The young Sikh excelled as a sportsman and played cricket for his University and for Sussex. When war broke out, Malik volunteered to join the Army but was twice rejected because of his race. He joined the French Red Cross instead and later applied to join the French Air Service. On hearing this, his former tutor wrote an angry letter to Major-General David Henderson of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). The letter worked, and on 5th April 1917, Malik became an RFC officer.
After training as a scout (fighter) pilot, Second Lieutenant Malik was sent to Belgium to fly Sopwith Camels with 28 Squadron. Malik’s flight commander was Captain William Barker, a Canadian who would later win the Victoria Cross for gallantry. On 26th October 1917, Barker took Malik over the lines in an attack on an enemy airfield in poor weather. They were surprised by a large number of German fighters, and although Malik shot one down, his aircraft was struck by 450 bullets. Bullet fragments would remain lodged in his knee for the rest of his life.
Soon afterwards, 28 Squadron was sent to Italy where Malik developed an allergy to the castor oil lubricating the engine of his Sopwith Camel. He was posted back to England in February 1918, joining 141 Squadron which operated two-seat Bristol Fighters on Home Defence duties. In the summer of 1918, Lieutenant Malik went to France and flew Bristol Fighters with 11 Squadron until the end of the war.
After the war, Hardit Singh Malik enjoyed a distinguished career as a civil servant and diplomat, and he was involved in the discussions that led to the founding of the Indian Air Force in 1932. The ‘Flying Sikh’ died in New Delhi on 30th October 1985.